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Goat body condition and parasite prevention

Airplane ear goatOne of our readers commented to ask what the parasite-prevention program looks like for our goats. I haven't posted about it previously because I'm a bit afraid to be told that you absolutely can't raise goats without dewormers. So far, though, that's been our plan. Instead of a regular deworming program, we:

  • Rotate goats weekly (although the goats do return to used pastures much sooner than the 90 days recommended for total worm eradication).
  • Primarily feed goats outside the pasture, through morning tethering and afternoon rambles, so they're very rarely eating where they've pooped. (We also work hard not to make them so hungry they have to eat weeds low to the ground where worms are more likely to hang out.)
  • Keep kelp (which they scarf down) and minerals (which they largely ignore) available free-choice at all times.
  • Keep a close eye on condition to see if worm loads are getting too high.
  • Use garlic as our first line of defense if we begin to see problems.
  • Cross the dewormer bridge when we come to it. (We've never reached this stage yet, and I'd probably head for copper first.)

What do I mean by keeping a close eye on condition? Parasites get first dibs on your goat's feed, so an animal with too many worms will be skinny even though she's getting plenty to eat. I was intially testing for fat deposits using a weight tape...but then one of our spoiled darlings knocked the ribbon down from its high shelf and chewed it apart. So I've moved on to body-condition scoring, which requires no supplies except your fingers and a goat. As long as our voracious beasts don't eat my fingers, I'm all set.

Goat body condition 3

This factsheet walks you through scoring your goat's body condition, so I won't repeat the same information here. To cut a long story short, you're really looking for fat in two locations --- under the goat between her front legs (the sternal fat, which is what a weight tape really measures) and in the area between the spine and the jutty-out bit (aka the transverse process) above the hind legs (the lumbar fat).

Body condition goalThe image to the right is a quick cheat sheet on body-condition goals for milk goats, stolen from this page. The graph was made for dairy sheep, but is similar to the goals for milk goats. As you can see, it's best to have a goat bred at a body-condition score of around 3, then she naturally drops some fat as she makes milk. However, if you can't keep your milk goat above a body-condition score of 2, then it's time to dry her off and feed her up for next time.

So where do our goats stand? Artemesia's body-condition score is a good estimate of her parasite loads since she's not doing anything difficult (like milking) and is barely getting any supplemental feed. My estimate is that she's a solid 3, which is just about perfect. (Much higher and she'd count as a fat goat.)

Estimating goat body fat

Abigail is a bit thinner, with the fat deposit between the peak of her spine and the transverse process being very slightly concave rather than in a straight line. Even though it's not technically part of the body-condition score, I think it's also relevant data that Abigail's hair doesn't shine in the sun quite the way Artemesia's does. As a result, I'd estimate that our older doe's body-condition score is 2.5 --- not too bad for four months into her lactation cycle. I probably should increase her carrot rations, though, since I'd let them dwindle recently in favor of feeding mostly alfalfa pellets in her daily rations.

I should mention that inside-the-eyelid color is another way of keeping track of a goat's parasite load, but I haven't crossed that bridge yet. It just seems easier to feel up our goats externally than to flip their eyelid out to look inside. However, I feel pretty good about worms at the moment, given how sleek and healthy our goats appear.

Goat on a log

And that's the far-too-long answer about our parasite-prevention program. Here's a cute picture of Artemesia to wake you back up in case your eyes glazed over....

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Thats the way to go. Wormers are basically useless, everything out there is resistant To them. There are plenty of plants that will keep parasites down; oak, blackberry, Brazilian pepper, and so on. So everyone save your money and just feed your goats a Good varied diet. And keep them on good ground.

Comment by T . Sat Jul 11 20:13:38 2015
Great post. I like to use Molly's Herbal Wormer preventative. It's a weekly herb blend you feed to make the gut inhospitable to worms. I use it for poultry but it can be used for goats too.
Comment by Hannah Sat Jul 11 20:31:31 2015
Really interesting, thanks for sharing!
Comment by Cordy Sat Jul 11 22:14:22 2015

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime